Credit or Debit Cards for Hire Cars in the USA

Do I need a credit card to hire a car in the USA? The short answer to this popular question is yes, you do. In this article we examine the general facts associated with the use of credit and debit cards.

credit card

Do I need a credit card to hire a car in the USA?

Why do I need a credit card anyway?

You will be asked for your credit card when you present your pre-paid rental voucher to collect your car.  This is for the rental company’s security.  This card will be used to charge you for any local costs and incidentals that you incur such as car seats, upgrades, late fees, one-way fees and e-tolls. The final charges for the rental may not be known until the cars return or even a few days after in the case of e-tolls.  Rental companies prefer to use credit cards because that guarantees to pay all costs incurred.  Traditionally debit cards only had access to funds available in the bank, making them unacceptable for this purpose. Likewise, pre-paid currency cards only have access to the funds loaded to the card, so although they may be backed by the VISA or MasterCard logos they are not accepted for this purpose either.

What about VISA and MasterCard debit cards?

Debit cards backed by the VISA or MasterCard logo work slightly differently. Some rental companies accept these cards for the security deposit under strict rules.

*ALAMO/NATIONAL DEBIT CARD POLICY: Debit cards are considered to be any non-credit card bearing the VISA or MasterCard logo. Any other non-credit card without one of these logos is not accepted. Please review the following guidelines: When renting in the US, a credit card in the name of the renter must be presented at the time of rental; otherwise, Debit cards are accepted along with proof of a confirmed round trip travel ticket (airline, cruise ship or train). Without proof of round-trip ticket, debit cards will not be accepted for the security deposit. For one-way rentals this does not apply and a credit card must be presented. $100 USD will be blocked per rental week when using a debit card for the security deposit.

I don’t have a credit card but someone travelling with me does – is this okay?

The lead driver must present a credit card in their name, issued by their country of residence. Just like their driving licence and passport. It proves you are who you say you are, and minimises risk to the rental company. The lead driver need not be the ‘main’ driver, or in fact do any driving at all. But, they must present a valid driving licence. If another person fulfils all of the lead driver qualifications, you can book the car in their name instead. Then the drivers without credit cards can be additional drivers.

How much is security deposit going to be?

The security hold ring fences a certain amount of funds with your card company, rather than making an actual charge to your card. Your available balance reduces by the relevant amount. But because it is a hold, there are no currency fees attached unless the rental actually incurs a charge such as those mentioned above. Your available balance returns to normal a few days after removal of the hold following return of the car. The amount of the hold varies by company, and we provide the following list as a rough guide:

  • Alamo and National – $100 USD
  • Dollar, Thrifty & Hertz – $350 USD
  • Europcar – $550 USD
  • Sixt $2,500 USD
  • Fox – $300 USD

Do I have to use the same card that I used to book the car?

No, you can use a card in any name to purchase the voucher. The lead driver’s requires a credit card for collection only.

In conclusion, for the best chance of a smooth and quick experience at the rental desk, we recommend that if you do not currently have a credit card, you obtain one with a limit that will easily cover the security deposit as outlined above.  If you have any questions about credit cards or are travelling in a short space of time with no time to obtain one, then please do get in touch to explore what options may be available to you.